Bucharest is one of those cities that no one seems to really like. In fact, the best thing I had heard anyone say about Bucharest before I went there was that it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as they were expecting.
The Romanian guys who worked in the hostel I stayed in in Brasov seemed quite offended that I was going to Bucharest and kept going on about how ugly and dangerous they thought it was.
Bucharest really isn’t that bad, but it’s not that great either. The old town is pretty nice (although it’s too big and commercial to have the same appeal as Brasov) and they have a really vibrant nightlife scene with loads of clubs open until the early hours.
A Romanian girl in my room went out every night I was there and she seemed to have a great time. I didn’t go clubbing at night myself whilst I was there because I was completely exhausted on the first night and then it rained for the whole of the second night, but from what it looked pretty good from the outside!
Bucharest is a little more expensive than Brasov. It definitely doesn’t have the same medieval, almost other-worldly appeal, and the areas outside of the Old Town really aren’t that pretty, but it is still worth going to for a few days.
One of my highlights from Bucharest was the Walkabout walking tour, especially the stuff about Dracula. As I mentioned before, even though we all associate Dracula with Transylvania because of Bram Stoker and the subsequent Dracula franchise, the ‘real’ Dracula (i.e. Vlad the Impaler) ruled Wallachia — which includes modern Bucharest –, not Transylvania.
The Bucharest Walkabout walking tour takes you to see the ruins of Vlad’s Citadel (which was under renovation when I was there) and it is definitely worth seeing even if you’re not particularly into vampires or sadistic dictators. Both this tour and the Brasov walking tour were really interesting because they showed how some Romanians even today see Vlad the Impaler as a hero.
In fact, our tour guide said that there was a political party which used Vlad the Impalers image for their campaign! It’s quite strange when you consider how many people Vlad the Impaler brutally killed (impaling is pretty nasty), but in some people’s minds, Dracula is a great protector because he kept the invaders out. He ‘secured the borders’ as it were.
The fact that he killed a lot of people in Romania too seems to have been forgiven.
We also learned a lot about Romania under communism. One of the things that stayed in my mind was a story about how when Nicolae Ceaușescu wanted to tear down a bunch of churches for his own building projects some of the churches were saved by literally being picked up and transported along some railway tracks to a new location which wasn’t in the way of any massive renovations.
We also saw the ‘ugliest statue’ in Europe. I quite liked it to be honest.
The walking tour also takes you to key revolutionary spots and Victory Blvd which has a number of very impressive statues.
Communism In Romania
The history of communism in Romania is really interesting because it is something you don’t really hear about in England.
When you think of communism you tend to think of Russia, China and North Korea, and it’s easy to forget how much of Europe was under the communist influence and how recently this all was. Nicolae Ceaușescu was killed in 1989, which is less than thirty years ago.
There are many people living in Romania and other areas of Europe who remember communism, and perhaps surprisingly for us, some of them seem to genuinely miss it.
I doubt they miss the dictators using all their money for big, unnecessary building projects and paying off a debt they were unlikely to have benefited from, but under communism, everyone has a job. Not a job they want necessarily, but a job none the less.
The trouble with communism is that, whilst not all regimes are as brutal and barbaric as each other, the main set up has to be the same. There will be a small group of people maintaining the ‘equality’ of everyone else, and in doing so they become a very powerful oligarchy. Democracy has its own problems, but no one should have that much power.
I didn’t really see that much more of Bucharest, to be honest. Most of my time was spent walking around the old town trying to find a food shop (central London is literally brimming with chain supermarket stores, but other European countries not so much) and taking pictures of statues.
The old town is pretty and full of history, culture, and fun, and Bucharest is definitely worth a short visit, but for me, it was mostly a stop over on the way to Sofia.